Sunday, July 25, 2010

Leadership & Strategy Needed for DC Voting Rights

In today's Washington Post, long-time Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, pledges to take a shotgun, no pun intended, approach to D.C. voting rights and Home Rule, by introducing nearly every approach under the sun.  Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks, if anything.  Such a strategy is doomed to go nowhere.

"If I am reelected, I will introduce a series of bills in the next Congress that include not only the pending House-only approach, but also bills for Statehood and for votes in both the Senate and House," Norton writes

What we need, and is lacking, is leadership and a sound, politically astute, strategy. 

First, District residents should reach a consensus that a single vote in the House isn't worth the effort, in fact, its counterproductive.  One vote in 436 or 437 (if an extra seat is extended to Utah) doesn't provide real representation.  That's why the founders provided a Senate.  They recognized that small states were not adequately protected in the House.  Obtaining such a marginal improvement will only result in expenditure of scarce political capital that is needed for obtaining true representation.

Second, representation in the Senate, whether it is through Statehood or some other means is not going to happen without a strategy.  A closely divided Congress will not vote to alter the balance of power by adding what will certainly be two new Democratic Senators from the District unless the proposal also includes some way of preserving the political status quo.

In a post last week, I noted one possibility that has not been closely considered -- pairing up the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which some mistake as Democrat-leaning but is actually heavily Republican, for Statehood.  There is a long history of such arrangements, which are the norm, not the exception.  Even the bill that would have provided the District with a single vote in the House was based on giving an additional Republican seat to Utah. 

The other option for full representation in Congress is some form of "limited retrocession," in which the District remains a separate entity but is represented by, and votes for, Maryland's Congressional representation.  This has roots in history as well, since the District was formerly part of Maryland and its residents voted in Maryland's elections.  It keeps the balance of political power by not adding two new Democratic U.S. Senators, but giving District residents the right to vote for seats already held by Democrats.  (This approach does have a downside -- the District would still not have the independence and Home Rule that residents have long sought.  It is will also, no doubt, be subject to a constitutional challenge, the outcome of which is unpredictable.)

Nevertheless, Norton and others seem to put philosophy, principles, and entitlement over strategy and political reality. 

For instance, DC political commentator Mark Plotkin asked House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, a Democrat from Maryland, whether he sees the potential for Puerto Rico and the District to be jointly admitted as states.  Hoyer responded, "We shouldn't have to make a deal about how the District of Columbia comes in."  

Really?  Isn't that what politics is - the art of dealmaking?  Isn't that the history of how most states were admitted to the Union?  When the core issue of representation for the District is at issue -- why do our representatives put their head in the sand?


Anonymous said...

I disagree with you about a House vote not being a worthwhile "next step" in a multi-stage strategy, but agree that there appears to be a total lack of any strategy.

DC needs to come to consensus on what they want, and what they are willing to bargain with to get it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks you, finally someone else saying what I've been thinking for a long while. House voting is not worth it, and in fact may be counter productive.

A vote would not change the current interaction between the fed and the district, and in fact may be used as an excuse to stop looking at the more import issues (you have a vote, what else do you need ... mentality) A vote does nothing to solve the problem of Sen. Ensign from introducing random gun amendments that affect DC.

I would love to see Norton focus on redefining home rule to allow greater autonomy for the district. (ie, limit fed control outside the city core) I guess it doesn't make for good press though.